Sunday 20th December 2020

Please note that recordings of this service have been added to each section and may be listened to as well as read.

Welcome & Intimations

Call to Worship (from Psalm 126: 1-3)
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

HYMN 474 Hail to the Lord’s anointed

Prayer

Lord God,
You came among us
that we may know You,
and be restored.
You came among us,
that we may be blessed.
You came among us,
that we may be a blessing.

Lord God,
as You come among us now,
may we stand in awe.
As Your presence enfolds us,
may we turn our gaze upon You.
As your closeness touches us,
may we lift our hearts in praise.

Lord Jesus,
as we recall your first coming amongst us
may we lift up thankful hearts.
As we gather around your word,
may we share in its truth.
As we await your coming again,
may we make ready our world.

Loving God,
in the silences of each day
we are drawn to our own faults.
We recall the times where we have failed;
where we have been impatient,
where we have been deaf to the cries of others,
where we have been blind to the struggles around us.

Yet we remember Your love for us.
we recall your patience,
we remember you hearing our cries,
we know that You see us as we truly are.
Continue to restore and renew us.
Make us worthy to be Your people.
And send us out into the world
to be a blessing.

These things we ask in the name of Jesus
and who taught us when we pray to say together:

The Lord’s Prayer

Advent Wreath

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 61:8-11
‘For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.’

I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the young plant come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’

He said, ‘I am not.’

‘Are you the Prophet?’

He answered, ‘No.’

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’

‘I baptise with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

HYMN SGP 34 Go tell everyone

Reflection:

What do you want for Christmas? By now you may be fed up with being asked that but do not worry as today will be the last time. Thus far we have asked ourselves whether we would like peace, hope, or joy as our gift this year. It is okay to want all three. Today, though, I wonder if you would like to be blessed for Christmas? Yes, it is okay to want all four. But what is it to be blessed? To begin with it is not a warm fuzzy feeling of the kind you have when someone does something nice for you. Rather, being blessed is about being right with God. It is, though, more than an inward feeling or understanding for it has an outward expression too.

Our Bible readings today are those of the season, yet they may not feel as if they have much to do with Christmas. Perhaps that is because they continue to guide our preparations rather than mark the day itself. Yet all the readings may be taken to hint at what the birth of Jesus means, and all the hopes that were placed upon him by his followers. The readings also point us to a time to come when Jesus will return. The earliest followers of Jesus expected him to fulfil all the promises of scripture during his life however the plans and purposes of God were not quite as they had hoped. Many of the promises remain to be fulfilled and will only be so once he returns. The preparations for Christmas invite us to look forward to that time as one of completeness. It will be a time of hope; a time of peace; a time of joy; a time for being blessed.

The reading from the Psalm, the one that formed our call to worship today, seems to be a rather upbeat song about the recovery of all that was lost. Known, technically, as a Psalm of Ascent it would have been familiar to Jesus as one of those sung as the people ascended the mount to celebrate within the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a song of hope, peace, and joy. It is a song about being blessed when God restores the fortunes of the people. Many see this poem as looking forward to a time when the land and material wealth of the nation are restored. That may be the case, but to stop there is to miss out on something more wonderful. That is because the Psalm speaks of the restoration of the people; it is a celebration of the people being restored to their rightful place with God. It is a song of being blessed. One former British Prime Minister stated that there was no such thing as ‘society’ only a ‘collection of individuals’; the Psalmist would disagree. It is a people, a society, that are being restored not a collection of individuals. The people are a whole, and not a collection of component parts. It is the restoration of the whole that is regarded as being blessed.

Lockdown, in all its various forms, has robbed us not of material wealth but of the riches of being part of something, a people. It has impinged on our relationships at work, rest, and play. It has taken away significant parts of what it means to be community. Positively, it has reminded us of the value of our relationships. As Christmas nears we have heard time and again the refrain that ‘we just want to be with those we love’; this year we have heard that more loudly and clearly than the demands for presents of a material kind. This outward drive for community can be a sign of an inward state of blessedness. Blessedness is that which drives us toward being right with others just as we have been made right with God. It is blessedness that drives us to seek healing and wholeness; it is that which drives us to seek restoration. It does not mean that we will get things right, that we will succeed in our relationships and striving for community. It is the intent that makes the difference.

What do you want for Christmas? Do you want to know hope? Do you want to know peace? Do you want to know joy? Do you want to know blessedness? To know these we must first be right with God. To know these we must then seek to enact them in our daily living whether we are successful or not. We must work together to build positive relationships, to build a people who are whole. But it is not just for the season or for during the pandemic. To paraphrase the advert, blessedness is not just for Christmas – it is for life.
Amen.

Prayer

Our God,
we thank You for Jesus, the Light of the world.
We thank You for those in every generation
who have faithfully pointed to Him
and have spread His light.
May we find the courage to point to the hope,
peace, and joy that You offer.
May we witness to Your grace and mercy,
Your love and compassion.

We thank You for Your people gathering this day.
May Your Spirit fan the spark of faith,
and transform us into a people
who work for Your kingdom.

We think of those who struggle this day.
We think of the grieving,
of those who are left alone,
and of those who struggle in heart or mind.
Lord God,
You understand the tears and silences,
disappointments and regrets.
Bring Your Spirit to bear,
filling the world with hope
and light.

Lord God,
We pray for places where conflict and violence are the norm;
for places where the changing environment has brought disaster
because we have been careless with Your creation.
Bring Your Spirit to bear,
filling the world with peace.
Give us greater concern for one another
for both the neighbour and the stranger,
giving us willingness to serve each other.

Lord God,
may we follow the example of Jesus,
making this a world of Hope,
a world of Peace,
a world of Joy,
that we may be both blessed and blessing.
This we pray,
in the name of the holy one,
born at Christmas.
Amen.

HYMN 320 Joy to the world

Benediction
May hope, peace, and joy be yours.
Know that you are blessed,
and go into the world being a blessing to all.
And may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with you always.
Amen.

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.